ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! - Eldritch Horror Review

Well it's the end of Co-Op month and even though I'm a big fan of co-operative games, I'm looking forward to reviewing and unboxing something different now! But I'm going to finish the month off with a big one. Only released at the end of last year this game is making it big with Arkham Horror fans and newbies alike.
However I've been dreading its release. Only in the summer of 2013 had I acquired the whole collection of Arkham Horror all the way up to Miskatonic and in October I nearly killed myself reviewing every single part of the chain. Now suddenly we have Eldritch Horror, touted as a sister game to Arkham Horror, but not intended to be a replacement. . . . . yeaaaaa I'm not so sure on that. Are my fears confirmed so that Eldritch Horror is going to replace my beloved Arkham or are they different enough to scratch separate itches? Is Eldritch even good enough to be included in this argument? Read on!

Designer: Corey Konieczka & Nikki Valens (2013)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 1-8
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 180+ minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 68/8.21
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Horror Adventure Game
Tools For The Ritual
Fantasy Flight Games are never a company you typically have to worry about with components. All the boards, tokens and cards in Arkham looked great and thematic with good artwork and Eldritch is no exception. Each card is colourful with good artwork and the tokens are actually improved from the previous game. The Stamina and Sanity tokens especially are nice and large making them easier to use when you're constantly losing and gaining both in the game. The monster tokens however are gorgeous. Larger and chunkier with good artwork (even if some of it is recycled from Arkham) and they clearly show the different stats and abilities.

"Like with Arkham Horror, I highly recommend using fish tackle/hobby storage boxes"

Immersion Factor
The main reason I love Arkham Horror is the immersion factor in the game. All those encounters that tell a story with such wide variation from expansions really suck you into the game and the extras like personal stories, epic battle cards, etc. really help as well.

Eldritch Horror continues the trend with cool encounters, but with one negative that I'll get into later. You have a wide variety of encounters for types of location, specific cities, expeditions, Other Worlds and even Ancient One specific ventures. In fact that latter part is a big plus for this game. In Arkham Horror it didn't matter which Ancient One you used in the game, it didn't change how your encounters played out. Here though more effort has been put in to give you some background and lore into the Ancient Ones. There's only four to choose from which is a pain as I'm used to having 20+ by now, but each one comes with their own special encounter cards that link to them specifically.

"Very detailed character sheets with background fluff to add to the theme"

A new mechanic to the game has you solving mysteries to banish the Ancient One. Previously you just picked up clues and spent them in Other Worlds which wasn't overly thematic, but now you have 3 out of 4 mysteries to solve which have their own fluff text and change how the game plays depending on their order. Annoyingly some of the "go grind clue tokens" type quests are repeated, but you could also have to mess with magic or even defeat Epic Monsters from time to time.

But what I really like is the new Condition and Spell cards. Spells have a different effect depending on how many successes you roll and can backfire from time to time. Conditions such as Blessed, Paranoia, Loan, Dark Pacts, etc remain dormant until the Mythos deck forces you to test a skill or flip it over. Doing so reveals a new encounter for the player and every card is different. Again, back to the negative, there's only about 3 to 4 of each, but having a completely different scenario play out depending on which card you chose is really cool and adds to the immersion factor.

"Conditions, artifacts, spells and items - I took down the Web Spinner god with that sword"

One little nitpick though is that like the original game, the finale is rather anti-climatic. You solve the final mystery, the Ancient One disappears and job done. . . . . . . that's it. No massive battle or nothing (unless the doom track runs out which I've never seen happen yet), which is a bit of a letdown after you've invested 2-3 hours in the game.

Streamlined Horror
A big selling point of this game is how it's reduced a lot of the fiddly aspects from Arkham Horror. Even I know that the original had a lot of fiddly components and rules to work with and Eldritch seeks to streamline the game out and make it more accessible to new players. Here are some areas which I particularly approve of. 

Gone are all of those money tokens for buying items, it's now handled by a much more efficient "Influence" stat in which successes buy items from a reserve of items that updates itself. No more searching through a giant deck hoping you will get what you want.

Those annoying sliders (which take their name far too literally) for changing stats are gone as well. Now you have 5 separate attributes which can be improved as the game progresses and you can't chop and change. Easier to manage and tidier as well.

Monster combat and Other World movement have been revamped to classify them as "encounters" rather than their own separate rule-set. The original Arkham took me ages to fully understand how movement, combat and being sucked into the Other World gates gelled together. Here it's nice and easy. Firstly you can move past monsters without having to stop like before. Then in the Encounter phase you first battle any monsters in any order you choose. Once they are cleared, you choose to have one encounter from those that are available be it Other World, Location, Expedition, Research, etc. Each part plays out in a nice, easy to follow sequence that players pick up much quicker.

"Some encounters have multiple stages to them which is a nice touch"

There are other amendments as well, all of which really ramp up the accessibility of this game without making it too "simple". It's never going to be a gateway game, but it's no where near as complex as before. That being said, the game setup time still takes a little while and the game length is still in the 2-3 hour bracket in most games so it's still a long one for most people.

Does Streamlined Mean Too Easy?

"It does certainly look striking when fully laid out, but it's easier to set up than Arkham"

In the few games I've been playing so far, I don't know if it's because I've been used to being smacked around in Arkham Horror, but this game almost seems a little too easy sometimes. I've played this with all ranges from 2 to 5 players (never play with 6 or more if you want to finish a game!) including solo with 2 investigators and it definitely seems to get easier with more players. But even with two I seem to find that I've beaten the game with at least 5-7 Mythos cards to spare and the doom track has barely moved and in my last solo game that was the case despite my horrific dice luck.

Now I've yet to lose a game of this and that concerns me. We did come close to losing in a 4 player game in my first venture, literally with one Mythos card to go before death (the most common way to lose this game is that Mythos deck running out) and that was epic and all, but still a victory. The game scales OK with players as the surges and spawns increase the more you have so it does tend to be a little harder with less players.

Now before you jump in, I didn't mess up the rule about skill stacking - I read the reference guide in advance and got the rules right. I highly recommend you read it though before playing because getting this rule wrong will likely unbalance the game horrendously in your favour as you can end up with a stack full of items.

Maybe you could argue that Arkham Horror was too hard and with some combinations of expansions or Ancient Ones, that is most definitely the case, but I do miss the challenge that it provided. I'm sure future plays of Eldritch Horror may result in some beatings, but I seem to be on a roll at the moment and may have to look up some difficulty variants.

"My two investigators EASILY dealt with Cthulhu despite bad dice luck"
We've Seen It All Before 

I've been referencing this all through the review and so we come now to the biggest criticism of the game and that is it's longevity. For some reason FFG have really gone Spartan on the amount of cards that are in each deck for location encounters and Ancient One mysteries. It's not uncommon for you to start seeing repeats in the location encounters in only your second or third game and you will definitely see repeats within the Ancient One specific cards. The more players you add, the quicker this issue will arise. Now you'll still enjoy the game regardless, but it would have been nice to have had more variety in the base box considering the £40+ price tag. It almost seems like a tester before the expansions come out to bulk up the game, which incidentally Forsaken Lore will be out in Q2 of 2014 bringing much needed extra cards and Yig, the Ancient One.

Final Verdict

Eldritch Horror is a really cool co-operative game and one of my top favourites in the genre. It feels almost like a reboot of the franchise and it works for the better as it's so much more accessible to new players and thus easier to get to the table. The streamlined format allows for a smoother flow of play and I've had friends comment that after previously not liking Arkham Horror, that they like this version. The rulebook in particular is fantastic - clearly written, lots of colourful diagrams, a reference guide with FAQ and just simpler rules in general. Light years ahead of the original Arkham version which seemed almost random in it's layout.  

"The rulebook is top notch - easy to read, good diagrams and not a thick one!"

However that streamlining comes at a price. The challenge that once existed in Arkham has dwindled slightly resulting in an easier game overall. I'm sure it's possible to lose this game and I have witnessed other players lose in spectacular fashion, but it's certainly no where near as tense as the original. But it's still a fun experience none the less because of the encounters and smooth flow of play.
Here comes the hard part.
Everyone will be asking if this is better than Arkham Horror or not. Now that's not as black and white as you would hope for as they both have their good and bad points:

Arkham Horror - Pros
  • Epic in scope and variation with the expansions
  • Very challenging and tense throughout
  • Immersion factor is at it's peak

Arkham Horror - Cons
  • Lots of fiddly and complex rules
  • No specific links to the Ancient One you're fighting
  • Setup time is long without a custom storage solution in place

Eldritch Horror - Pros
  • Streamlined and smooth rules
  • Innovative theme immersion with the spells/conditions
  • Encounters and mysteries link to the Ancient One you're fighting

Eldritch Horror - Cons
  • Variety currently suffers with the base game on repeat plays
  • Feels a bit too easy so far, the challenge rating has come down a notch.
  • The game is still quite lengthy and feels anti-climatic.

I feel that it's possible to own both of these games if you're already an Arkham Horror collector. The original game is still great and offers more of a challenge and has a stack of ways to play the game by mixing and matching expansions. However if you're new to the franchise then start with Eldritch Horror because it's also a very solid, fun game, but the streamlined rules will work in your favour to enjoy the experience and you may likely not need Arkham Horror after that. I'm certainly going to be getting more plays out of Eldritch than Arkham over 2014 as a result of this.
It badly however needs some extra variety in the game and Forsaken Lore looks to solve that issue for the short term, however it's likely to only boost the decks by a small amount and with only one extra Ancient One it's a temporary solution. But this is Fantasy Flight, this is how they work - lots of expansions therefore give us more money - but like me you'll be ordering these as soon as they get released and the game will only get better as a result.